By RENALDO DORSETT
The inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl presents a myriad of opportunities for the locals to embrace NCAA Division I postseason football.
The matchup between the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Central Michigan Chippewas is scheduled for noon December 24 broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN Radio, however, bowl week will feature a list of supporting events.
Britton Banowsky, president of the Bahamas Bowl and commissioner of Conference-USA, said it was important for his committee to establish its roots in the Bahamas, as the game will be featured here for the next five years.
“It is important in all our events to have a sense of community, to have the people engage with the event and a symbiotic relationship occurs. The participants in the event get a great experience and those in the community get a great experience. Here, it’s even more important I think because of the newness to it and a greater opportunity to do that. So we hope over the course of 4-5 years as we build this that we are able to grow roots deeper and deeper into the community,” he said. “It is a great experience for the coaches and their players. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and it’s a great opportunity to introduce to the youth of the Bahamas the quality of the folks on these teams and try to create a college going culture in the Bahamas through the sport of of football.”
Bowl week events begin with a team welcome party followed by a team beach bash.The teams will also visit the Ranfurly Home for Children and participate in a youth football leadership clinic.
“We have a great partnership that we developed over time, with the folks from the Ranfurly Home. They’re a special non-profit in the community that do great things for the youth and we are pleased to be able to sponsor 10 of your students for the year so that is something we are very happy about,” Banowsky said. “We expect to have about 200-400 youth in the community. We are bringing in the people from USA Football to run the clinic and we are also in cooperation with the folks from the Bahamas American Football Federation out of Grand Bahama so our hope over time is to foster the sport of football in this community.”
A halftime show featuring the Valley Boys, a pre-game show featuring the Bahamas All-Star Band, and free samples of a new flavour from Popeyes chicken to the first 5,000 patrons in the Thomas A Robinson stadium will accent the battle on the gridiron between the Hilltoppers and the Chippewas.
Banowsky said his committee had several goals to accomplish when the idea to host the game was in its infancy stages over a year ago.
“We had two objectives when we started talking about this. The first was to create a great game and great experience for the student athletes, coaches and universities. That’s a priority. There are a lot of great places to play football but we could not think of a better place than the Bahamas. Equally as important was to try to enhance and continue to introduce the game of American football to the people of the Bahamas. We know that there are folks here who love football and it creating a more enriching experience around the sport of football is absolutely something we want to do,” he said. “The game will be available to at least 110 million homes in an unopposed window on Christmas Eve and has the potential to be the largest audience to view anything that’s ever happened in the Bahamas. It’s a lot of pressure for us but it’s also a great opportunity. This game is going to project extremely well internationally.”
Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson, deputy director general in the Ministry of Tourism, said this game is important for The Bahamas.“One of the areas that we are really looking to promote is sports tourism and we see these great events as a catalyst to get more people to the islands of The Bahamas and the fact that you have an in-store promotion in Popeyes’ 1,800 stores – this is a marketer’s dream come true,” he said.